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Make Brain Fitness One of Your New Year's Resolutions

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As we all look forward to another year, no doubt many of us are making resolutions that include ways to become healthier. I'd like to encourage everyone to consider a resolution focused on their brain health in 2013, especially as the number of those who develop Alzheimer's disease continues to rise. Today, someone in America develops Alzheimer's every 68 seconds, and unless a cure is found, this rate is expected to rise to every 33 seconds by 2050. While to date there is no cure, the following tips are ways we can all look to keep to our brains as healthy as possible.

1. Reduce Stress

We all have stressors in our lives, and while a little stress can actually be motivating, too much stress can have very negative effects on the brain. For instance, it may cause the brain's hippocampus, the main region of the brain involved with memory, to shrink. That's why it's very important for everyone to find ways to reduce their stress levels. This Harvard Business Review blog has some helpful tips to overcome stress in our lives, and those who take care of loved ones should also consider some special guidance to make sure they are taking care of themselves.

2. Increase Your Physical Activity

Recently, there has been exciting research that shows the brains of people who exercise are less likely to atrophy or decrease in size with age. We should all look for opportunities to increase our physical activity, whether that means taking a daily walk, joining a gym or even taking the stairs instead of the elevator in the office. Of course, it is important to check with your physician before starting any new exercise programs.

3. Get Enough Sleep

Most of us know the results of a bad night's sleep, such as difficulty concentrating and feeling drowsy during the day. According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, sleep also appears necessary for our nervous systems to work properly and may give the brain a chance to exercise important neuronal connections that might otherwise deteriorate from lack of activity. For most adults, this means we should get seven to eight hours of sleep a night; however, listen to your body to see what may work best for you.

4. Challenge Your Brain

Current research indicates that even the aging brain has plasticity or the ability to change, and can be strengthened to grow new neural pathways. We can all help our brains change in a more positive way by engaging in new learning that requires some additional effort. If you are accustomed to doing crossword puzzles to keep your brain active, be sure to increase the level of difficulty to challenge your brain to work even harder, which will promote plasticity. Or, consider learning a new language, as that is a great way to improve brain plasticity. There are many software products on the market that focus on brain fitness, and you can even check out your daily paper online for great brain games. At Sunrise, we make sure to offer activities each and every day that focus on maintaining or improving cognition.

5. Eat a Balanced, Brain-Healthy Diet

We have all heard about the foods that can actually boost our brain function, but sometimes we simply do not have the time to include them in our diets. If you experience those mid-morning hunger pangs, instead of reaching for an extra sweet or fatty snack, pack yourself some healthy snacks that will also fuel your brain, such as berries, walnuts, apples and grapes. These foods contain powerful antioxidants that may help to offset the build-up of free radicals in the brain, which are a byproduct of cellular metabolism that may cause cells and tissues to age.

No matter your age, these simple tips will help maintain and improve your brain health, and may even help delay or slow the progression of memory loss caused by Alzheimer's disease or other dementias.

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